Technology might be to blame for growing obesity rates—think couch potatoes and hours of video gaming that doesn't involve jumping around with a Wii remote in your hand—but it could also help fight fat. Apps to track calories and weight loss or to "encourage" folks to lose weight have been around for a while (witness the parade of cute but not-so-sophisticated apps on the government-backed Apps for Healthy Kids. But healthcare professionals and researchers are working to take health and fitness apps to new levels—adding more sophisticated analytic capabilities and better functionality but also making them easier to use.
Crunching the nutrition numbers
Everyone knows you should read nutrition labels. And some of us even do. But a quick glance at the number of calories and the grams of fat doesn't tell the whole story. You also have to look at carbs, protein, fiber, cholesterol, and sodium levels. And—perhaps trickiest of all—you have to determine the ratio of really bad fats to the slightly less bad fats (plus you have to remember which ones are the really bad fats and which ones are the slightly less bad fats). Then there's ingredient lists, packaging claims that may or may not be misleading … Well, you get the point.
Australia's Victoria University created a weight loss app that helps interpret nutrition information labels. Shoppers, all with a Body Mass Index greater than 25, used their smartphones to scan GS1 bar codes on breads, breakfast cereals, and biscuits. They received a simple 'traffic-light' rating for each product, based on National Heart Foundation guidelines.
Over four weeks, the test subjects completed weekly 3-day food diaries followed by a trial stage where they scanned products, purchased products and retained their shopping dockets.
Researchers compiled a database with participating consumers' personalized characteristics and combined product data of breads, breakfast cereals, and other carbs, including their description, serving sizes, and sodium and saturated fat content and displayed it on the users' phone.